The Inspiron Mini 12 is within the same line as the Mini 9 launched in September, but unlike the latter, it doesn't fit into the "netbook" category, which is defined as a sub-$500 machine with a screen size of 10 inches or less. The larger size gives the Mini 12 enough room for a full-size keyboard and track pad, which makes it more useful for document creation than its smaller cousin. The Mini 9 is aimed at people looking for an ultraportable system for checking e-mail and Web browsing.
The Mini 12 is slightly larger than the Air at 0.92 of an inch versus 0.76 of an inch thick. The Dell system weighs 2.72 pounds, which is a tad lighter than the Apple system. At that point, however, the comparisons end. The Air, which costs $1,200 more, has a 13.3-inch screen, a faster Intel processor, an Nvidia graphics chip, and other features expected of a high-performance notebook.
Dell, however, is apparently targeting consumers who want a machine larger than a netbook, but don't want to pay too much more. The Mini 12, which is available first in Japan, starts at less than $600 and includes Windows Vista Home Basic. The system is scheduled to ship worldwide in late November, and will be available with Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP before the end of the year.
Other features of the Mini 12 include 1 GB of memory, the choice of a 60-GB or 80-GB hard drive, and an Intel 1.6-GHz Atom processor. The system has built-in support for Bluetooth and 802.11 b/g wireless technologies, three USB ports, and VGA-out for connecting to an external monitor.
In aiming the Mini 12 at the fringes of the netbook market, Dell is targeting a fast-growing segment of the notebook market. Netbook manufacturers, which include Hewlett-Packard, Asustek, and Micro-Star International, are on track to reach shipments of 5.2 million units worldwide this year and 8 million units next year, according to market researcher Gartner. Manufacturers could ship as many as 50 million devices in 2012.